Trail Outlaws Penshaw Half Marathon – 18th June 2023

by Paul Wragg

In 36 years I had never been up Penshaw Monument. As of Sunday the 18th of June I’ve now been up and down it 3 times from every angle possible. All the way up, halfway down, around, back up, all the way down and back up again. Sometimes steps, sometimes on gravel other times on grass. I’ve basically completed it there now and I’ve got the medal and the T-shirt to prove It.

I had booked this race a while ago. I’ve always liked the Trail Outlaws T-shirts, so I thought it was about time I acquired one for myself. So like the rebellious John Lambton I skipped Church on a Sunday to take part in the 1/2 marathon. With my trusty Steed…. I mean Steve (Mills) we donned the terracotta and gold coat of arms (Crook kit) to take on one of Trail Outlaws toughest races.

In true Steve Mills fashion he turned up to the race with the usual mentality which has become synonymous with him ‘rock up and run’! Funny thing was he hadn’t entered yet so with a hour to spare we collected the race numbers and went to the start line.

From the foot of Penshaw Monument is where the race started and after a couple of twists, turns, climbs, hops, etc etc it was onto the trails. The first 4 miles were very stop-start. Every stile created a backlog of 6 to 8 people and they seemed to take forever to climb over them. With the first four mile out the way and settled into a decent rhythm the run along the river was easily the nicest part of the race. Shade with little shafts of light breaking through, the trees and the river alongside us gave us a bit of respite from the heat.

Some more steps, twists and turns kept us on our toes though. I was informed by Steve’s older brother after the race that one of these sets of steps are called the Devil’s steps, they should have just called the lot Insidious. Slow gradual but at the same time enticing you to grind yourself into the ground to get to the top, only to be faced with another set a mile or so down the road. These again would entice you to get up as strong and as quick as you could thinking surely this is the last set for a while. It never came.

At one point in the race I had thought “honestly I’m going to be out here all day”. Crunching numbers in my head I predicted around two hours 30 minutes. Instead of feeling like John Lambton I now felt like the wyrm, Hot, creeping away from the river toward Penshaw Monument. The tighter I got my grip around the hills the sharper the spikes became (hypothetically speaking obviously).

A mile to go and I was pleased with the progress I had made in the second half of the race. Passing plenty people who dusted past me in the first half with backpacks full of water and belts full of energy gels. There’s something satisfying about going past them with just a couple of mile to go. I think it’s the look of “I haven’t seen you for ages” slapped across their face. One final push from around the back of Penshaw monument up to the top and it was all over. Great course, very well marshalled and very very challenging.

Steve Mills true to form just rocked up ran and seemed to enjoy the race just as much as me. We collected our well-earned medals and T-shirts. Think I finished in around 2:16 a little slower than I would’ve liked but it was a tough course and the first four mile was literally bumper to bumper. Not sure about Steve Mills time as he paused his watch at one of the aid stations to get a drink and some jelly babies then forgot to start it again (classic Steve!).

For anyone who read this and didn’t have a clue what I was talking about John Lambton was a crusader in the 14th century who killed the Lambton Wyrm in the River Wear. The Wyrm used to wrap itself around the hill where the monument stands and terrorised neighbouring villages. He wasn’t the man who invented the classic dance move in the 1920’s (the worm). That was Kane Hendrie, I won’t mention the name of that person who asked me that but her second name sounds like Terry.